A LITTLE over a year ago, a corner lot in the Feiler Park neighborhood was just a bald patch of land.
Now fresh okra, tomatoes, greens and acorn squash rise out of four elevated beds of the Feiler Park Community Garden, presided over by volunteer Betty Jones.
“Most of us are retired, so this helps bring us fresh food without having to shop, plus it gives us exercise,” says Jones, a former educator.
Save a few container plants on the back porch, she hadn’t done much gardening until she got together with a few other folks from the neighborhood association to see what they could grow in the corner lot.
With the help of the City of Savannah’s Environmental Services and Sustainability Coordinator Ashley Helmholdt, they secured the spot, built the beds and sowed the seeds.
“It’s coming along,” says Jones. “We tried to do a watermelon patch, but we planted too late. We’re still learning.”
For gardening advice and support, they regularly consult with the Savannah Urban Garden Alliance (SUGA), a local non-profit dedicated to inspiring citizens to build community, promote nutritious eating and combat food insecurity one garden at a time.
A loose association of around a dozen independent community gardens including Midtown Miracle Garden on Abercorn and the revolutionary Occugardens in Thomas Square, SUGA serves as a resource for everything from loaning out tools to lending its 501c3 status to help secure grants.
The Feiler Park folks learned how to compost at a SUGA-sponsored lecture, and others have found their way to the garden through the organization’s Facebook page.
“The main goal is to increase access to urban gardens and link gardens to volunteers,” explains SUGA co-chair Jennifer Drey. “People drive by a community garden but they don’t know how to get involved. We can provide that information.”
If you’re itching to put your hands in the dirt but you’re not sure where to dig, this is your season. SUGA is hosting a week of indoor programming, starting with the “Sow Thyme, Reap Benefits: Garden & Volunteer Workshop” on Saturday, Aug. 12 at 4pm at Sulfur Studios. Here you can find which community garden fits your growing aspirations and service level, or find out more about starting your own neighborhood plot.
The same evening at 6pm brings the opening reception of “Cropped,” a photography exhibit showcasing local farmers. The show is curated by Mixed Greens, the grassroots group associated with the Forsyth Farmers Market that also tends its own garden on East Victory Drive.
The kid-friendly (things to touch!) event will have an interactive map of Savannah’s community gardens and seed-planting fun, and the art will be on display until Aug. 16.
Starting Monday, Aug. 14, SUGA is hosting a garden-themed film series that starts at Sulfur Studios, kicking off with the short film “Guerrilla Gardening.” Tuesday’s film is another shortie, “Urban Gardening Movement,” and Wednesday, Aug. 16, brings the feature-length documentary “Vanishing of the Bees,” which drives home the importance of cultivating and protecting our precious pollinators.
Each film is free, open to the public, begins at 7pm and will be followed by a short discussion.
On Thursday, Aug. 17, the film series moves a couple of blocks east to the spacious offices of the coastal advocacy group One Hundred Miles.
The series’ closing film is “Growing Cities,” an inspiring look at the multicultural, cross-generational phenomenon of urban farming across the country, from raising veggies on the roofs of apartment buildings to teaching young people how to produce food in reclaimed schoolyards.
SUGA launched its own school program last year, contracting with Savannah Victory Gardens’ Reid Archer to oversee maintenance of public school gardens and provide teachers and students with educational support.
“We realized that a lot of what keeps schools from having gardens is that teachers don’t have time to teach and weed and water. The goal is to increase curriculum hours in the garden,” explains Drey of the initiative, which began as a pilot at Coastal Middle School and will be in effect at Gould Elementary and Ellis Montessori this year.
“We’re creating a model that can be implemented in any school in the district.”
Other than the school program, SUGA has no financial component, nourishing its mission with sunshine, water and good ol’ people power. Volunteers are the core of the urban gardening movement, and the art show and film series are meant to inspire folks to grab some gloves and start digging with their neighbors.
Jones and her crew of retirees at Feiler Park could always use some more strong backs, especially as the weather cools and it’s time to start planning for fall.
“We’re not sure what we’re going to plant—we’ll definitely be asking the SUGA folks for help on that,” laughs Jones.
“It will probably be hit and miss for a few seasons, but that’s how it goes! I’m just glad to be out there doing it.”
SUGA Film Series